Lawsuit seeks ban on paddling in Mississippi

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press

JACKSON — A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a Tate County high school student asks for a ban on paddling in Mississippi, claiming the punishment is unfairly applied based on gender and race.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of William Cody Childress, a 16-year-old student at Independence High School, who claims he was struck twice “with excessive force” for looking at a camera in class in September 2009.

“This lawsuit is about bringing attention to corporal punishment,” said Ripley attorney Joe Murray, who’s representing Childress.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order to prevent paddlings while the court considers a permanent ban.

When Childress got home from school the day of his paddling, Katherine Marie Childress, “upset her stepson was beaten,” took the boy to the hospital and called the Tate County sheriff’s office, according to the lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court.

The student claimed the paddling was so severe that it hurt him to sit or use the restroom for days.

The lawsuit seeks damages and attorneys fees, among other costs, as well as a declaration that corporal punishment on students is unconstitutional. The Tate County School District, superintendent Gary Walker and Independence High School principal Corey Blaylock are named as defendants.

Blaylock referred questions to the superintendent’s office. Walker and school attorney John T. Lamar Jr. both declined to comment Monday because the matter involves pending litigation.

Walker allegedly told Childress’ family that he, the sheriff and a youth court official all looked at a picture of the boy’s buttock, taken by a deputy, and found no evidence of wrongdoing, the lawsuit said. The sheriff didn’t immediately respond Monday to a message.

The 22-page lawsuit cites U.S. Department of Education statistics that said more than 220,000 students in the United States were paddled in the 2006-2007 school year alone, with a majority of those in five states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas.

“Mississippi has the worst record in the country when it comes to corporal punishment and paddled over 30,000 students or approximately 7.5 percent of its student body,” the lawsuit said.

Texas paddled the most students that year — 49,197 — though the number represented just over 1 percent of students. About 30 states have banned paddling, and the punishment is used rarely in some of the ones that allow it.

Childress’ lawsuit claims he was paddled for looking at a picture on a camera while the female student who brought the camera to school was not punished. The lawsuit claims nearly 75 percent of students paddled in Mississippi are male, creating “a serious, gender driven crisis.”

The lawsuit also claims black students are paddled at disproportionate rates.

“This should come as no surprise because paddling has historic connections with the way slave owners disciplined unruly slaves on the plantation,” the lawsuit said.

Another problem, according to the lawsuit, is that Mississippi law doesn’t clearly define what violations merit a paddling or how corporal punishment should be handled.